Are Myers-Briggs/Enneagram/DISC totally meaningless?
Some of my students at George Fox have asked me about this article that declares the Myers-Briggs test to be totally meaningless. Then I’ve seen it re-posted on many friends Facebook walls. The article is almost troll like, deliberately intent on provoking readers into an emotional response to generate readership and comments.
So this one article would have us believe the Myers-Briggs test is not only meaningless, but that it’s only value is for entertainment. So is it RIP Myers-Briggs (MBTI)? If you don’t know what MBTI is, take a look here?
Well let’s stand back from the hyperbole and look at the claims of the article.
1. No Clinical Psychologists would ever use the Myers-Briggs. I’m not sure why that is news, or a valid claim. I’ve interacted with psychologists a great deal, personally, with family and professionally.
I’ve never expected them to use the Myers-Briggs for the basis of what they do, and would be disturbed if they did. MBTI coaches would also never expect to use the tool for psychological issues. This argument in the article is a red herring. Only an idiot would use the MBTI to deal with someones psychological issues and needs. But the tool and others do interact with the world of Psychology, see below.
2. The MBTI is useless in predicting success in a job. Again another red herring, and the MBTI has never been a success predictor. The MBTI is not a job success indicator, so what is it? Read on and I’ll get to that.
3. The MBTI is based on false binaries and made up categories. The MBTI measures a very limited range of things for sure. It produces a grid of 16 types, based on four aspects that have a binary component. Let’s take the issue of how people don’t fit into 16 neat boxes. Of course they don’t! Human beings are unique and all aspects of who they are are on a wide spectrum.
The MBTI by it’s own admission, is measuring spectrums and divides those into two half, two weightings on opposite sides. For example, do you get energised when tired by being with other people (extroversion), or being on your own (introversion). The result is you are likely to be introverted or extroverted, but in a range within that.
So aren’t the categories just all made up and aren’t real things? Well so are the categories of psychology. Take personality disorders. You can’t cut someone open and find a personality order to examine. It’s a description of a range of behaviours in a person with mental health issues, that deviate from what someone else has decided is normal behaviour.
All human beings are unique, and even those with personality disorders don’t fit into a diagnostic box. But with medical and psychological issues, human beings suffer similar issues in similar ways.
Calling that something in a category is a short hand way to talk about it and provide treatment for it. Now for sure, personality disorders are based on the testing of many many people, to see patterns that allow that diagnosis.
Then again the MBTI is similar, in that is has been used to ask millions of people the same few questions, for the same few categories. Ask enough people the same questions with a limit range of options and people will fall into those categories. Some will be borderline, and others clearer.
And again a reminder - the MBTI measures 16 aspects of personality and preference, and is nothing to do with psychological problems.
4. What is the relationships between the Myers-Brigss and psychology? There is overlap between personality tests and psychology. Psychologist are aware of there being five main personality traits/domains. In fact you can take an online test made by clinical psychologists to review your big five traits. You can listen to Dr Richard Beck on the Ian Cron Typology podcast talk about how personality typing integrates or not with Psychology.
Anecdotally I have seen some overlap between personality and psychology. For example if leaving planning to the last minute caused self destructive events in your life, missing important events, stress for you and your loved ones, you might explore with a psychologists why you do that.
I like to plan ahead but that can lead to anxiety and control. I talk my psychologist about why I am unable to live in the moment, and rest. I can find ways to grow as a person and be less anxious, and still find that my preference is to plan ahead. But I have never hoped I’d become less anxious so that I might then change my MBTI!
5. Don’t put me in a box, pigeon hole me, or label me. I’ve heard this many times from people who don’t like the test. If you don’t like it don’t use it. You’d be limiting yourself to go through life using your MBTI as the only way to understand who you are. It’s very limited and focused on just a few key things.
Also I don’t know anyone who uses it to interact with people all the time, maybe there are some people out there who do, perhaps MBTI coaches! Most people I know who use the MBTI use it as one tool of many to help understand preference, within personality/temperament.
BTW we use short hand to describe people all the time, imagine if we had to find unique words to describe every person we interact with. We often talk about someone being impatient, angry, shy etc. In other words the MBTI and similar version of the real world use of language to describe people’s traits.
6. Myers-Briggs does work - long live Myers-Briggs. The Myers-Briggs does work, in that is does one simple thing. It maps the responses of people into 16 categories, that allows us to take complex behaviour and understand those with short hand mappings, as we interact with ourselves and others.
That's why when you take the test a good coach seems to know so much about you. It's not that they are amazingly perceptive, but that your test questions, give them answers to key thing about your personality. What good Myers-Briggs coaches are gifted at is using the information you provide about yourself, to help you better understand yourself and others.
For example, the Myers-Briggs asks questions that show your preference for planning. Do you leave everything to last minute or do you plan ahead. The results are your own answers to those questions. Now just because the test confirms you like to leave things to the last minute doesn’t make any value judgements about you.
But if you work in an environment that requires planning in advance, it might help you realise why might find that less than optimal for how you work. Again, as above, it doesn’t mean you’d see a psychologist to talk about why you prefer to leave your planing to the last minute.
Similar an introverted person, might understand with the MBTI that their preference is to withdraw from people to be energised and build that into their lifestyles and work. And the MBTI does not tell you that you can only work in those 16 categories. It does help you see the categories, i.e. preferences that are not your most preferred ones.
That’s all the MBTI does.
In my work life I’ve found that ENFP people tend to have planning taking place in their heads and it all comes together in the end. That’s a generalisation, as many ENFPs know they need to plan ahead and do so very well. But many don’t. What makes them an ENFP is not the MBTI test, but who they already are!
I’m an INFJ, which is a mapping and short hand of how I amongst other things, like to plan ahead, and don’t like leaving anything to the last minuted. So when working with and ENFP, it means I can consider how someone else prefers to be and they me etc.
So for me the Myers-Briggs is a very useful tool, and I will continue to use it. But for who I am, what God wants me to be and how he can grow me and use me, it remains a very tiny tiny tool that I do not use to understand my meaning and purpose.
Lastly, you can apply the above to use of the Enneagram, DISC test and any other tools you might come across and similar dismissals of them by some.
***This post originally appeared on my old site, October 17th, 2015, with some new updates/edits.